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Watch Janus Looking at Cranaë: A Reconsideration of Janus in Ovid’s Fasti

Anastasia Belinskaya

Florida State University

This paper argues that Rome’s two-faced god of boundaries and doorways, Janus, who strikes a commanding figure as the narrator’s first interviewee at the opening of Ovid’s Fasti, reveals himself to be a dangerous and untrustworthy character by his actions later in the poem. Janus’s appearance in the initial scene has been interpreted as crucial to the structure of the poem as a whole (Green 2004). He has been seen as a foundational, programmatic figure who exists on a spectrum between seriousness and humor (see Miller 1983, Hardie 1991, and Murgatroyd 2005). While he has been accused of being deceptive (Hardie), he is also seen as one of the most reliable informants among those whom the narrator consults (Murgatroyd).

Harries’s instrumental article (1989) convincingly established that the reliability of the informants in the Fasti is often colored by their appearances elsewhere in the poem, outside of the interviews. Janus appears in a curious episode at the start of book six, which is structurally parallel to his narrative in book one (Fast. 6.101-130). In the latter scene, Janus pursues the nymph Cranaë. He rapes her, and in exchange for this act he grants her control over door-hinges as the goddess Carna/Cardea. As opposed to all the words he exchanges with the narrator in book one, this is Janus’s only action in the poem. It has previously been explained as a brief and humorous excursus, which highlights Janus’s amatory tendencies and undermines his seriousness (see Porte 1985, Littlewood 2006, and Chiu 2016). Contrary to these lighthearted interpretations, a closer look at Cranaë’s interaction with Janus in book six reveals that the god is a much more sinister figure whose actions speak louder than his words.

To arrive at this characterization, I approach the episode through the use and perception of space by both Janus and Cranaë, which is especially appropriate in light of Janus’s self-proclaimed powers over spatial access and its denial (Fast. 1.117-44). Janus’s actions show him to be a nefarious figure who takes advantage of an imparity in the power dynamics of the situation. This makes his earlier claims to be a controller of space take on disturbing tones. My analysis shows that the same element that Janus purports to control—space—thwarts Cranaë’s attempts to elude her suitors. Her setting determines her fate, and the cunning ruse she uses to fight this paradigm, far from making her a liar, cheat (Porte and Chiu), or a tease (Murgatroyd), accentuates the futility and poignancy of her struggles in the underlying power dynamic. This reading is encouraged by verbal cues in her narrative which allude to Jupiter’s rape of Callisto in the Metamorphoses.

Cranaë’s poor choices of space (a grove and a cave) as her favored haunts contrast tragically with Janus’s control over her and the space of the narrative through his power of increased sight. Moreover, the “reward” which Janus grants to Cranaë as recompense for raping her is not a positive change of circumstances or a gift of power for the nymph (Chiu), but a trap which makes her a tool of the same patriarchy which made her a victim (Habinek 2005). It further traps her in a space foreign to the locales she used to enjoy, restricts her freedom of movement, and forever alters her identity by turning her into a fully feminized “indoor” figure. Within the Fasti Janus, far from being reliable, humorous, and charmingly self-ironic, is a disturbing figure who purposefully manipulates his own image to gloss over negative associations and actions in order to elevate himself above his actual reach. He is two-faced not only in his physical appearance, but also in his propensity for working outside of the truth, as demonstrated when we observe the actual way he uses his two faces.

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